Sleeper Cell - Season 1 review
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Main Language: English Available Audio Tracks: Dolby Digital 5.1; Episode Commentaries With Executive Producers And Writers; Documentary Featurette – Know Your Enemy; Deleted Scenes With Commentary With Executive Producers Ethan Reiff And Cyrus Voris; Making Of The Series Finale: A Production Day Diary.
REAL-life events have come scarily close to imitating those depicted on mini-series Sleeper Cell, thereby adding to the authenticity of this brilliant show.
In a nutshell, the series follows the fortunes of FBI agent Darwyn Al Sayeed (Michael Ealy) as he infiltrates a terrorist cell working to mastermind a massive attack in Los Angeles. The cell is headed by the ruthlessly efficient Farik (Oded Fehr) and is comprised of members including an all-American rich kid seeking to rebel against his family and country, and two Europeans with grudges to bear.
Unlike 24, to which it has been favourably compared (indeed, the New York Times declared it to be “better”), Sleeper Cell unfolds over a longer period of time and on a more grass roots level.
The stakes are just as high but there’s no presidential conspiracy theories, no extended gun play and the twists and turns aren’t quite so extreme. Darwyn isn’t as athletic or as unbreakable as Jack Bauer, while the threat doesn’t concern anything on the scale of a nuclear weapon.
What it does, however, is place hundreds, if not thousands, of lives at risk – although to reveal exactly how would be giving one of the show’s many hooks away. Darwyn isn’t allowed to know, and neither do we.
Rather, Sleeper Cell is content to examine the motivations of the terrorists themselves – a seemingly ordinary bunch of guys, as charismatic as they are chilling, who integrate themselves within US society with frightening ease.
If one of them steps out of line, however, they are dealt with in unforgiving fashion by Farik, whose single-minded dedication to his “cause” comes at the cost of friendships, family and, quite possibly, his own life.
His relationship/battle of wits with Darwyn is convincingly portrayed, especially when the two discuss religion and its interpretations. While the number of ways in which the FBI agent has to find to tip his superiors off to new developments and/or threats merely adds to the intrigue.
Sleeper Cell isn’t as breathlessly exciting as 24 and there are certain elements that don’t work and seem to be padding out time. Darwyn’s ill-advised affair with a single mother (Melissa Sagemiller) becomes irritating much in the same way that some of the issues concerning Jack Bauer’s personal life have been.
But for the most part, this is thought-provoking, chilling and very real. Anyone who kept track of a recent foiled terrorist plot in Chicago will notice many telling similarities between what was reported and what unfolds here, while the show as a whole takes on added significance in light of the recent terrorist activity in the UK.
Come the exciting conclusion, the level of tension has reached fever pitch and the manner in which it unfolds is both clever and slickly portrayed.
It is another example of entertainment being driven by current events that capably and sensitively tackles some of the biggest issues facing us today. For it is only by attempting to understand such extremists and thinking on their level that we can realistically hope to combat them in the future – while also, crucially, realising the distinction between a Muslim and a Muslim extremist.
Having Ealy’s FBI agent as a Muslim himself is another clever touch and one that leads to much soul-searching and plenty of discussion points (which the show capably expands upon). It also examines the issue of how far a government/law agency is prepared to go in combating terror – when is the best point to intervene and when is it wiser to sit back and watch in the hope of learning about the bigger picture.
Sleeper Cell delivers plenty to think about as well as the entertainment value required of mainstream TV. It’s worth putting on everyone’s radar for the excellent way in which it tackles a difficult issue that shows no sign of going away.